Has The Economic Recession Led To Harsher Parenting?
A new report from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFS) suggests it has – at least for some moms.
This paper deserves consideration because it uses an informative base – a longitudinal study of nearly 5,000 families who have a child born between 1998 and 2000. By following these families from 2000 through the present, the researchers were able to examine how the economic recession led to overall changes in parenting – particularly harsh parenting. Here “harsh parenting” incorporates a range of behaviors like excessive yelling, hostility, and corporal punishment (which includes spanking and hitting).
The basic finding was that levels of harsh parenting by moms (dads were not included in this report) increased in relation to the decline in “macroeconomic conditions” – meaning the large scale economic factors that operated at a community level (and not just an individual level) were the trigger. The idea here is that pervasive economic stress causes parental stress, which in turn becomes family-wide stress. Prior elegant studies documented this during the Iowa Farm Crisis in the 1980s – such work included detailed observational studies that tested (and confirmed) such a family stress model that derives from economic decline. Essentially, when a parent is feeling the effects of uncontrollable stress, their patience with their kids goes down. Things that may not have typically bothered them now seem annoying or noxious. Harsh parenting is often associated with feeling frustration and lack of control. So here the point is that economic stress can end up having this kind of negative impact on moms, and ultimately their kids.
One of the interesting findings in the new paper from the FFS is that not every mom reacted with harsher parenting practices – rather it was moms who had a specific genetic predisposition to stress. What can we learn from this? Simply this – moms know themselves well. They don’t need a DNA test to know if they get stressed easily or tend to roll with things (even big things). So those moms who are highly reactive to stressors may especially want to consider that our economic climate might be influencing their parenting to a degree (even if there isn’t an immediate economic stressor per se). Talking to a primary care provider about stress management and perhaps screening for depression would be options to consider. Such intervention could offer a way to ward off the long chain of events by which economic recession impacts a child’s daily life. And, of course, let’s hope that insurance coverage permits such intervention – or else it becomes yet another trigger of economic stress rather than a way to ward off the effects of recession.
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